Take Charge of The Stage!

The stage is a comedian’s workplace, and territory.  When you are on stage, it should be clear that it is time for a show and you are going to give one to the crowd. Here are some ways you can better take charge on stage.

Look at them! Unless your act requires it, you should be up there looking at the audience.  When I first started, I could not stand to look at them judge me.  What I started doing instead was looking just above eye level.  That way the audience thinks you are looking at them, but you aren’t.  Just staring ahead at the first couple of rows isn’t enough.  You have to look at all of the audience!  Try to connect with everyone in the crowd.  It let’s them know you are not only going to tell them jokes, but connect with them while they laugh.

Look comfortable.  You have to look as though you are in front of a group of friends.  If you are nervous, don’t alert the crowd to that fact (unless it is a part of your act of course).  If your hands shake really bad when you are nervous, place one in your pocket or keep the mic in the mic stand in front of you.  Starting out, I would get so nervous I would get sick.  So, I started out telling a couple of smaller, warm up jokes that would get the crowd laughing and in turn, would calm my nerves.  If your knees get a little wobbly, try pacing a little on stage.  This will get you moving so the audience can’t see how nervous you are and that may help you calm down sooner.

Memorize your material. You don’t look like you are so sure of your stuff if you are constantly looking at the stool.  During an open mic or something, looking at notes is cool because that is what an open mic is for.  Looking at your notes at a paid show looks like you didn’t bother to prepare, and keeps you from physically moving away from your notes.  There are comedians that can bring notes on stage and not make it known that they do.  If you must take notes with you, then you may have to get inventive.  Trying taping it to the side of your water bottle or glass.  Then when you take a drink, you can sneak a peek.  You can also try writing it on the inside of your arm.  Don’t write on your palms because it is much more noticeable to the audience.

Ignore distractions! Part of being an effective comedian is knowing when you should and should not interact with things off stage.  Some things can not be helped.  If someone is getting thrown out of the bar, you have to address it so as to get the attention back on you.  A lot of comedians with not a lot of stage time will want to point out every thing that is happening in the room.  This can throw the show off course and make it seem as though you are easily distracted.  If a glass drops, the audience knows that.  Unless you have a really good joke, just let it be and keep on with your act. Sometimes the audience is the distraction.  Hecklers should be shut down, but you have to analyze the situation and see if it is needed.  Sometimes the best way to deal with a heckler is to ignore them.  If an audience member is responding to you material, sometimes not saying anything back is the best way to keep it from messing with your ongoing show.  If it can not be helped make sure let them know that you heard them.  If this does nothing then your standard heckler response may be needed.  I always advise comedians not to go to hard on a heckler at first because you don’t want the audience to think you are the asshole.  Most audience members want the person talking to shut up, so all you have to do is make it clear that it will not be tolerated.  This will show that you are in charge, and this is your show.  Do not let the inmates run the asylum!

I hope this helps those that have been having trouble getting that edge on stage.  I think these tips will help you get that crowd listening to your dick jokes.

How to Take Advice/Constructive Criticism

Comedians get and give advice all the time.  It is constantly a learning process, and not one person knows everything about comedy.  How you take advice and/or criticism is important if you want to grow.

Advice can come in many forms, but no matter how you get it make sure you understand the source.  I am not saying that only famous people can give advice because a lot of the time it was just blind luck that got them famous!  You have to weight what advice from a certain sources means to you.  I am nowhere near famous, and I have dispensed advice on this blog for three years now.  You reading this are the only ones that will know if what I say applies to you and your career.  If you are headlining clubs every weekend you have no business here.  I will add hardly anything to your overall understanding of the comedy industry.  If you’re an open mic comedian, that is trying to move up the ladder, then maybe you can get something from all of these scribbles.  There is also nothing saying you can’t take bits and pieces of advice and make it something that can help you grow.  If someone tells you, “You need to get on stage more and face the crowd.”, but the persona you are building on stage is one that is stand offish to the audience, then maybe just take “You need to get on stage more.” and leave the rest to the winds.

Criticism is hard for any entertainer.  Who wants to know that you are not making 100% of people laugh? I have been doing this for twelve years, and I still get down whenever I hear someone tell me that.  I will tell you the same thing I told you in the paragraph above:  understand the source! Criticism coming from a drunk person may not be the same as it is coming from your buddy.  Is this person just trying to hurt your feelings?  That is something else to take into account.  I am not saying that anyone that has a criticism about you is a hater, but listen to the criticism.  Is it constructive?  Does it give you a starting point in which you can improve, or is it just tearing you down just for the sake of it? Constructive criticism is almost always trying to negate negativity by instilling a positive aspect. Here is an example:  Someone comes to you after a performance, and says, “I think you should shed some details in your stories.  The end is funny, but it takes to long to get there.” They are telling you that the stories you are telling on stage are too long, but they are giving you a way to change it.  If they approached you and just said, “Your stories suck.” you just have the negative and no way of changing anything for the better.  You also have to understand that there is no way 100% of people are going to find what you do funny.  You are not looking for 100% anyway.  You are looking for enough people that will fill up a room.  I am not saying don’t try to make the person that doesn’t like you laugh, but don’t kill yourself trying to do it.

It is important to note that not all advice and not all criticism is good.  I once had someone after a show tell me, “What you need to do is get on Comedy Central!”  That is advice, but I can not do anything with that!  I had someone just a couple of hours ago say they have never liked my material (the inspiration for this post), until recently.  That’s all they said.  That is criticism, but since they gave me nothing else to go off of, there is nothing I can do to see if it is something I can fix.  There is nothing wrong with going head first with our vision of what you want to do on stage.  The thing is, we are trying to entertain others, and if we are not trying to do the best we can to do that, then we are just amusing our need to be the center of attention when we are on stage.

Mic Etiquette

For 95% of comedians, the mic is the only tool we have on the stage (unless you’re a stool humper, you have two).   The thing that makes our voices carry over the drunk masses should be treated with respect and dignity.  Here’s a bunch of rules I made up.

Stuff about the Stand:  The stand holds the mic, but some comedians use it like a stress ball.  Some comedians don’t like to remove the mic from the stand.  Some fiddle with it and slam it around.  That is fine, but if you notice when you have the mic in the stand, that the noise is travelling to the mic, then you should leave it alone.  It is distracting to hear ever tap on the stand while you are trying to tell  jokes.

Get familiar with the stand:  Is it a normal stand with a base and a straight pole, or is it one of those musician nightmare machines with eight joints and a bunch of knobs?  Well, get there early and give it a look so you don’t look like a fool playing with it.  All you have to do is walk to the stage and look at it.

Mic holding: I am not about to tell you how to hold a damn mic…ok I am.  Hold it somewhere near your mouth.  That is why you are holding a voice amplification device.  If you have it down by your waist, you will not be heard.  Now, sometimes the mic is “hot” (turned up too high) and the sound guy, or bar tender, isn’t around to fix it, so you may have to keep it away from your face, but that is the only case.  Also, if you are holding the ball of the mic, covering most of it, then you will probably sound mumbled. Rappers do it to look cool.  The eight people at this open mic already know you are cool.

The mic is your friend, don’t hurt it!: I don’t know why this is a thing, but people beat the hell out of mics.  They slam em against their legs, they pound on em.  They throw em, and swing em around.  Don’t do that! Microphones, good microphones, like almost every comedy club has, is not cheap.  If you have a bit where you beat a microphone up, then just go to Amazon, and buy a three dollar mic to abuse.  The mic should not be an expense for the club.  This is extra true for bars and other places that may only pull out their mic but every once in awhile.  If you mess that one up, they may not have another one, and you are left with a dead mic.  Look, I get that you saw you favorite comedian beat a microphone up, but they can probably pay to get it replaced.  You probably can’t afford to do a mic drop, so don’t do it.  Mainly because you are not the only one that has to use it later.

It may seem like a silly thing to write about, but people have been asked not to come back to a spot because of how they beat up the mic.  That is like being a janitor and destroying the floor polisher.  Show the people running the place that you have respect for their equipment.  You don’t want that to be the reason you are out of future work.

 

How To Stand Out In Your Comedy Scene

A lot of comedians think that the best way to stand out is to just be funny.  All you have to do is write material, work it out week after week, and someday…you will be able to host!  Here is the thing that a lot of comedians just can’t understand: That is not the way to stand out in your scene.  I will tell you what does and why?

You may be saying, “Well, Harry, handsome mofo you, why isn’t being funny the best way to stand out?  That is my job, right?” Your job is to be funny, but being funny is just a part of being a comedian.  You have to think about all the stuff that a comedian does before and after they get on a stage and be funny.  You have to get to the show, on time.  You have to perform your time, not going over or under.  If you are gonna be on stage, you should probably not be up there so high that you forget your material, or go after people in the audience.  When you are off stage, it is probably not a good idea to touch the wait staff (unless they consent of course).

If you want to stand out, you have to do what the others around you are not willing to do.  For example, in Spokane, we have a major comedy club and some independent shows.  If you show up to the open mics and show yourself not be a douchebag, it is not that hard to rise to the top of the scene and start working at the club, where you can be sharing the stage with some huge names.  Because in almost every scene I have witness, there are the same groups of people.  You have the entitled people that think that they should get work because they have stuck it out. You have the comedy fans that are more into the idea of comedy then actually creating and performing their own stuff.  Then you have just lazy comedians that will not show up to open mics, and when they do they are still performing the same jokes.  It is not that hard to rise above these guys.  While they are sitting around wondering why no one is booking them, you are making face time with all the other comedians that are trying their best to, just like you, stand out and be noticed by the people that are booking shows.

People always look at me and assume I get work because I make people laugh.  That is so far from the truth.  At first it was because I was available, and that I could go to places at a moments notice.  Later, bookers turned to me because I was dependable. I got to the venue on time and was nice to the staff.  When the manager of the room sees that, they will book you again.  Now, if you suck, you will get some work, but after awhile it will be harder, but the idea here is to get your foot in the door with a lot of these bookers and promoters by being dependable.  Bookers need people to fill time.  Yeah they want a great show, but if the funniest person on the planet only shows up 50% of the time, then there is no show.

Look comedy is still hard, if you have read any of this blog you know that, the thing is to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success, and that means getting out and being seen and not being a horrible garbage person.

Comedic Styles: Current Events

I didn’t know what to title this article.  Is it a philosophy or voice? I have no clue.  I will be doing a series on styles of comedians.  This week we talking about the comedian that slings current events.  I don’t know the proper term, if there is one, I just know that this is an distinct style from other forms of comedy.  With all of these articles, we will go over the pros and cons.  Lets get to it!

The style of slinging jokes about current events is usually in the realm of late night TV.  So think of all the late shows and late late shows and you have a good idea.  Some of the best in this style are mainly late night guys, guys that are telling jokes almost every night.

Pros:

This style revolves around being able to write jokes about current events (duh).  So comedians that use this style are always writing and usually can get better, faster than the comedian that have a set that really never changes over time.

Comedians using this style always seem in the thick of things because they are always talking about things that recently happened.  This gives the audience a sense that the jokes that are being told are fresh.

Cons:

One of the biggest issues with this style, is that some comedians who want to tell jokes like this may not know the time limit on what is current.  I think about it like this:  If it is a national story that is ongoing then you can keep going with it.  If it is a weird news story that no one has heard of, then it is best to walk away from it.

If you are not writing up new material often, your set can seem stale.  If you are talking about a thing that happened years ago, it looks as though that is when you stopped writing jokes.

This may not be a viable style for comedians that write a lot, but don’t get to perform the jokes often.  The reason for this is limited feedback to see if the way you are writing is connecting with the audience.

Conclusion: This style always seems hip, until you see someone pulling out old ass stories.  The best way to circumvent this is by writing it in a way that it does seem like it was ripped from the headlines.  Don’t use opening lines like, “I was reading the news the other day.” or “Have you heard this story?”  Those trigger the audience to assume this is something that you just came up with.

Beware of Predatory Comedians

This world is filled with unscrupulous souls just waiting for unsuspecting people to get within their grasp so they can screw em.  Show business is no exception.  Lets discuss those uncaring bastards that call themselves comedians.

The thing about Predatory comedians is that they have a lot of potential victims because of just how weird comedy is.  Every couple of months or so, there are a couple of new comedians hungry for stage time and fame, and that is when these assholes strike.  It is just like any con game, they gain your trust and next thing you know you are traveling the state with a chainsmoker that isn’t paying you or buying gas just giving you “experience”.  Now, there is a lot to be said for experience.  That is the one thing you have to go out and get, but no matter what, there are less expensive ways to gain it. Lets go over some of the major traits of Predatory comedians.

Praise:  Have you been doing comedy all of three months and someone is already coming up to you telling you that you are the best thing since slice bread?  It could be it’s true!  It could also be that they are just softening you up so they can use and abuse you later.  This is usually the first step.  They get you alone so none of the other comedians in the scene (who have seen them run their bull on others) can hear them talk you up.  Be honest with yourself.  If they are piling on the compliments when before they didn’t even talk to you, it could be that they are gearing up for the next step in their plan.

Promises they can’t keep: People are always working on stuff that just falls through.  I do it all the time.  The problem with these guys is that they make it too unbelievable.  Have you been doing it a short time and now they say they can give you 500 bucks for one show somewhere way out into the future?  Then what they are actually doing is setting your mind up to allow them to freeload off of you for a bit because you think you are getting a windfall in a couple of months.  People do this all the time in more classic scams like the Nigerian Prince scam that we all know about by now.  The old saying, “Too good to be true.” holds here.

Asking for favors really soon after meeting them: So you talked to the scumbag on Monday and on Thursday they are asking you to drive them out of town for a show and they promise stage time?  That may be really cool…unless they are not splitting expenses with you.  If anyone wants to mentor you that is cool, but don’t let someone take advantage of you with the promise of stage time in a bar somewhere.  Besides going out on the road may do you more harm than good.  You don’t want your mind destroyed at a bar show in the middle of nowhere only to then have to drive back home and pay for gas.

My best advice is to have your head about you.   Understand that there is no “get famous quick” scheme in comedy.  Those comedians that you see on TV have been doing it for years before they got to that point so you have to accept that your road may wind like others.  Now, there is nothing wrong with going out on the road and gaining experience with cool comedians.  It’s just that a normal, none douchebag comedian won’t make you pay for the gas and food just so you can do five minutes somewhere you didn’t even know existed.  Women have to be extra careful because there are some pervs in the industry that will make it seem like all they want to do is nourish your comedy, when actually what they want to do is put their penis in you.  Again, if you want to that is your thing.  Just be careful, and have a fun.

The Pain Of Failure

Went to Colorado Springs to take part in the World Series of Comedy. I am always a nervous wreck when it comes to competitions.  I feel like I have good material and everything, but it never seems to hold up very well under scrutiny.  I do them anyway because it is the best way to get out there and network.

I was in the “wildcard” round.  If you place in the wildcard, you can then move on to the next competition. The 40 comics that were selected were all done so based on the video that was sent in.  So, the wildcard round is for those comics that had a pretty bad video, but not that bad. I was the ninth comic and I thought I did a good job.  I placed second and got to move on to the next round.

So I got to hang out Thursday and watch shows and got to see the sites of Colorado Springs.  I performed first show Friday and I was a nervous wreck.  I actually laid in my hotel bed, timing my material, so I could be sure not to go over time.  I never do this!  I just go up with a rough sketch of what I will do and I let the crowd take me the rest of the way.  Because I placed in the wildcard, I was the first comic to go up.  Comics call this the “bullet” spot or “taking the bullet”.  The reason being is because as the first comic, everyone else will be judge based on you.  You are the average, and being the average does not get you into the final night.  I did my thing, and I thought it was great.  As the first comic, you have to set the bar high.  You can’t mess up because then the bar is so low that the other comics can just walk over it.  They picked two comics to go on to the Saturday shows, and I was not one of them.

After the show, the guy that puts this all together told me I did a good job taking the bullet, and I only lost out by a point, but while I was listening to him, my brain was muddy.  Like he was talking to me while I was in a bowl of water.  All I could keep thinking was, “Not again.”.  I didn’t stay up that late because I had a flight back to Spokane, but I did stay to watch my buddy Phil Kopczynski take second during the next show.  The whole time though, I was sitting there wondering what I could have done differently.

This is my third of these types of competitions, and I always seem to do well, until I talk myself into failing.  I lay there at night just running through all the times I ran into hardship, or I just tell myself that I am not supposed to be a great comic.  I think about all the other failures in my life and think why would this be any different.  That sort of thinking will eat away at your soul.  I try not to let the negative thoughts get to me, but it is hard in a business where failure comes in bunches and the victories are so small, but seem so big because you don’t know what it feels like.  Comics in Spokane assume that I am doing all this stuff, but what they fail to see are the emails (or lack there of) from casting directors and club bookers turning me down.

It hurts to work at something and not see it pan out.  That is comedy though.  That is show business.  It tears away at you and you mull over all the ways you could have turned it around.  Maybe I should have done this, or maybe I should have said that?  That always pops up in my mind after the fact.  It also doesn’t help that I get approached after the show and told how close I was to success.  It just plants another seed in my mind that I should not strive for a better position, that the space I take up now in comedy is the one I am best suited.  That may be right.  It doesn’t hurt to keep trying though.

Even though I fail in a lot of my pursuits, my YouTube channel, my photography business, my podcast, this blog, it doesn’t mean that the passion to do those things die along with it.  Every Monday, I still have a desire to type out these words even though a small number of people will read them.  I still take photos and offer my services.  I still write short stories and audition for commercials and movies.  I do these things because when I look at my life without those things, I don’t see me existing.  These are the things that make my heart race, that make me feel like I am adding to the positivity of the human condition, and so I will still perform comedy, and write and take photos, even though I will run into a lot more hardships. This defines me, and I can’t walk away from it.